Introducing Enterprise Military Housing
by Karina Gafford
When it is so cold outside that even my husky balks at walking out the front door into the freezing rain, it is hard to imagine that yet another summer military moving season lays just around the corner. For all CONUS families—except the lucky few stationed down in sunny Florida—the 2014 winter season seems to have brought forth nothing but freezing rains and endless snowstorms. For many military families on the vulnerable move list, though, the ping of an incoming email will soon bring forth orders signaling a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) before the snow even begins to melt on the ground. For the newbies and newlyweds who will have the opportunity to embark on their first PCS adventure this summer, welcome to the crazy life; there is no need to panic, as you are in good company. With an Active Duty force of over one million people, not including family members, the military system is generally well-equipped to help provide you with many of the resources that you need to successfully accomplish your big move; the resources available through MilitaryByOwner should be able to help provide you with the rest! As for everyone else, the biggest change that you will notice this year is that the Department of Defense (DoD) will not have a sponsored house listing website available for this moving season.
[Dramatic pause while you, Dear Reader, draw in a sharp breath]
But however will I find a house at my next duty station? You ask. How will I list my house? Well, forgive me for playing Captain Obvious, but I do believe that you are currently on a veritable website that hosts a wealth of listings of military housing, both for sale and for rent. With well over a decade of experience in helping military families with their relocation needs, Military By Owner can not only help you find a new home at your next duty station, but it can also help you either sell or rent your current home, too. As for listing your home, MilitaryByOwner can help you create your own picture perfect listing for our website where for a nominal fee you can include options such as MilitaryByOwner yard signs, a video tour, a selection of photos to highlight what your home has to offer. You can also create a printable flier featuring a customized URL that links directly to your listing on MilitaryByOwner, which you can post in your local grocery store, coffee shop, or at approved locations at your nearest military installation.
Why Does No DoD Sponsored House Listing Service Exist for This PCS Season?
Conflicting reasons exist as to why the DoD does not have a sponsored house listing service for this moving season. Discussions with local base housing offices in the DC area, North Carolina, and South Carolina provided one suggestion as to why the DoD is not offering such a service. They each suggested that not sponsoring a venue for house listings was part of the cost saving initiatives currently engulfing budget discussions at the Pentagon. As an alternative to a DoD sponsored house listing service, each base housing office instead suggested using MilitaryByOwner as a good resource for both listing and finding off-base housing. Though it may sound a little biased, we would have to agree with them. Patrick Foughty, a spokesman for Navy Installations Command, meanwhile, offered another suggestion as to why no DoD house listing service exists for this moving season. In a brief statement, Foughty simply stated that their sponsorship of commercial house listings ended because the final contract expired. The expiration of a contract, however, does not provide a reason as to why such a contract would not be renewed. Press releases from the Army Housing Services and Navy Housing Services sites, meanwhile, provided a little further insight into the end of the DoD’s relationship with commercial house listing services. The former explained that the "Due to contractual, security, and legal requirements, the contract cannot be extended or renewed." The latter explained that the lack of sponsorship is not, in fact, a cost savings measure; instead, the lack of sponsorship is a result of concerns over "information assurance requirements."
Why Would the DoD Sponsor House Listings in the First Place?
Given that the DoD does generally require military families to move to brand new locations every couple of years, it seems reasonable that they may want to offer a service that would help military families transition more quickly to the new location by way of helping them find a home. Reasonable aside, policy requirements exist that mandate that the DoD provides support to military family home seekers. Under DoD 4165.63M in DoD Housing Management, requires that "personnel shall have access…a list of local rental and sale properties at each location before arrival. Each listing shall include basic information for personnel to determine unit suitability such as housing type, cost, number of bedrooms, unit size, availability, and location." Unfortunately, most housing offices simply do not have the database capacity established to expertly manage the rapidly changing listings of homes in the areas surrounding the base. For those base housing offices that can maintain accurate and updated lists, they do not necessarily have the capacity to provide those who inquire of homes with photos and virtual video tours, the latter of which is of particular benefit to military families who often cannot travel to pick a home prior to their move. To help increase your ability to rent to a greater number of families who choose to select their rental prior to their PCS, you can take advantage of the virtual video tour option as part of your home listing. In that same policy, the DoD has noted their own stated requirement to offer photos and video tours for those who inquire about available homes for rent or sale, but at present, they do not yet have this option available.
A House Listing Service Plan in the Works for the DoD
Though no base housing office with whom MilitaryByOwner has spoken recently has revealed, it seems that a long-term plan to have a wholly owned DoD house listing program has been in the works for almost a decade. Families who have lived overseas, or for single servicemembers who have lived in Navy, USMC, and Army barracks, have had their housing processed through a database called Enterprise Military Housing (eMH). According to the Department of the Navy, eMh is "…a .mil web based integrated enterprise system that supports housing business processes and program management throughout the Navy, USMC, and Army."
The DoD initially contracted with eMH, but the company is now entirely government controlled and owned as of 2011. In April 2011, the Department of the Navy posted an initial inquiry on FBO.gov into using small business set aside funds for a Cost Plus Fixed Fee contract to acquire a database suitable for managing the housing needs of servicemembers and their families. Cost Plus Fixed Fees means that the database would be procured at the price of the cost to the business plus either a fixed percentage or an explicit fee for the service provided. By January 2013, eMH had developed their servers, integrated with the DEERS system, and was fully operational in managing on base barracks housing. In fact, the First Sergeants Barracks 2020 Program Handbook for that year mandated training on eMH and explicitly prohibited the use of any other tool for managing on base barracks housing once they deployed the new housing system. As of December 2014, base housing offices began listing off-base housing in eMH, too.
However, eMH functions as a database available for housing offices, and it currently requires training and CAC card access, which means that the information on the database is not readily available to military families via a web interface akin to what MilitaryByOwner offers. The DoD does, however, plan to have a software solution in place by July 2014, so that if not for this military moving season, then at least for the next military season, military families will have direct access to a database of houses that are listed with the base housing office. This new .mil website will, according to Army Housing Services, "…registered user landlords to post new listings with pictures and rental property attributes; the Army can then approve these listings after inspection. Registered user Soldiers will be able to access the database of rental listings and perform searches on their own."
While a DoD sponsored house listing website may not exist for your upcoming PCS season, options for finding homes are available. Contact your local base housing office for off-base housing options, and make sure to take advantage of the great resources on MilitaryByOwner for both listing and finding homes.